Zebra bites staffer at National Zoo; scared gazelle runs into barrier and dies


A Grevy's zebra walks in his enclosure at the National Zoo in Washington on Monday. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
November 18, 2013

A young gazelle died at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on Monday , apparently from injuries sustained when it ran into a barrier. Zoo officials said the animal seemed to have been spooked by noises coming from a nearby enclosure, where a zebra had attacked a zoo keeper.

The unlikely series of events began around 8:45 a.m., the zoo said in a statement, when 10-year-old male zebra named Gumu bit a veteran keeper multiple times. The keeper, whose name was not released, was “definitely bleeding,” but conscious and talking as he was taken to a local hospital for treatment, said Annalisa Meyer, a zoo spokeswoman.

Officials said the keeper was in an enclosure with Gumu and two other male zebras, Moyo and Domo, when Gumu started to bite him. Officials are trying to determine why the keeper was inside the enclosure with the animals, which is a violation of zoo procedures. The incident occurred out of public view.

About 11:15 a.m., a Dama gazelle named Tony was found dead inside his enclosure, next to where the zebras are located. Initial necropsy result indicate that the gazelle had fractured a vertebrae.

“The gazelle was likely spooked by the incident between the keeper and the zebra and ran into the barrier,” Meyer said.

Gumu, the zebra who bit the keeper, was also upset by the incident, and was being kept out of public view for the day while things returned to normal. Moyo and Domo remain on display, however.

The zebras are housed in an area known as the Cheetah Conservation Station, which is a holding facility for juvenile males and young stallions. No breeding or birth takes place in that area. Meyer said zoo officials are “trying to figure out what would have caused” to cause the keeper to be inside the enclosure .

The bulk of the animals at the zoo are managed through mesh fencing. When they are fed, they are moved from stalls or holding areas while their food is placed inside. The keeper then leaves the enclosure, and the animals are shifted back into the area with the food, said Pamela Baker-Masson, also a zoo spokeswoman.

Baker-Masson said that the zoo has managed its herd of Grévy’s zebras for more than 20 years, and that “we’ve never had any incident.” At the same time, Baker-Masson cautioned, a zebra’s “primary mechanism” to defend itself is to kick or bite.

Also on Monday, the zoo’s three-month-old tiger cubs went on public display for the first time. The cubs, named Sukacita and Bandar, were scheduled to be on the exhibit from about 10 a.m. until about 11 a.m. They recently took a swim test and proved they could keep their heads above water and climb onto dry land.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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